N. Scott Robinson Solo

Wind & Fire

N. Scott Robinson, K.S. Resmi & V.K. Raman

Ensemble Datura


N. Scott Robinson

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Interview 3

“N. Scott Robinson: Percussionist with a Worldview—Part 1”

By Scott Davidson for World Percussion & Rhythm 11, no. 2 (Fall 2010), 8-9. 17.

SD: What is your musical background?

NSR: I had some piano lessons in the 8th grade for about a year and fiddled with electric guitar on my own but in high school I began playing drumset and developed a serious interest in music from that. By the end of high school I was studying timpani, drumset, and piano privately in preparation for Berklee College of Music. I realized you had to be able to play many styles of music, and I thought a drummer was supposed to play all the percussion instruments, too, so I was playing xylophone and timpani in high school. There was a world percussionist near my home, Richard Graham. I discovered that there were different kinds of drums used in ethnic music, and he was the only guy around at that time in the early 1980s who knew anything about that. I also studied with him for a few years in high school, and he opened up all kinds of doors for me. It was through Richard Graham that I began playing riqq, pandeiro, kalimba, berimbau, and all kinds of world percussion. He used to take me to New York to the drum shops and ethnic neighborhoods to find instruments and records. He took me to libraries and showed me how to do research since I wanted to know more about instruments like frame drums and mbira. It was really wonderful what he did. I continued studying with him after college. Through him, I was able to later study with Naná Vasconcelos and Glen Velez. I did a year at Berklee College of Music in 1983-1984, and that was really incredible. To be 18 and totally let loose to focus on jazz and drumming was just what I needed then. I couldn’t really afford to stay there beyond that so I went to William Paterson College in New Jersey briefly and got into classical percussion. I played with the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble and got to work with John Cage while I was there. That was also wonderfully stimulating and an entire world of percussion I had no idea existed. I remember one day peeking through a window and seeing 26 percussionists rehearsing Charles Wuorinen’s Percussion Symphony and thought that was where I wanted to be. Ray Des Roches and Gary Van Dyke were the teachers I worked with, and the students there were also amazing. At any time there were about 20 very serious and skilled percussion students there. Bill Stewart and Van Romaine were some of the jazz drumset students there at that time so I hung with a lot of great people there.

Because I could never afford to keep going to college, I had to drop out so I started teaching privately and doing little gigs here and there to survive. By the late-1980s, I was playing pretty regularly in a variety of contexts and studying with Keith Copland on drumset, Naná Vasconcelos, and Glen Velez. Another thing that happened to me around that time was getting a job at Rutgers University. I did a year long tour with a theater group where it was 9 actors and myself on percussion. The teacher of this group was Joe Hart, and he was really amazing at having me create all kinds of timbres and improvising with actors. When that ended I was offered a position in the Rutgers University Dance Department as an accompanist for modern dance classes. I was able to work with Robert “Tigger” Benford and ended up staying there for 8 years. That was such an important experience for me to really hone technique, improvisation, and sense of phrasing on a lot of the world percussion I was playing. After one year of playing for dance and hanging around the university, I got the bug to go back to school. I was able to get a full scholarship and a lot of financial grants to go to school. It ended up being free for me for 5 years, and I took advantage of that by taking every class I could and doing both jazz and classical percussion majors and a minor in anthropology. New Brunswick, New Jersey was close to New York so I was able to keep playing gigs while I was doing that. In New York, I was playing with Glen Velez, Layne Redmond and Steve Gorn, Paul Winter Consort, and worked with the composer Annea Lockwood in her ensemble with Art Baron, Peter Zummo, and Jon Gibson. At Rutgers I was involved in concerts with the Benny Carter Big Band. Those gigs were recorded live and released as a CD that won a Grammy Award. While studying at Rutgers, I remember needing a roommate for an apartment I was living at. I advertised that musicians were welcome and an older gentleman called inquring about the place. I thought to myself that it would never work out. It turned out that it was Buddy Montgomery calling, the brother of Wes Montgomery! He moved in and was my roommate for a year while I was a jazz student at Rutgers. I remember getting up to go to a jazz history class, and Buddy was making breakfast and he'd start telling me stories about playing with John Coltrane, and I thought to myself "This is my jazz history class!" Those kinds of scenarios kept happening to me. Luck doesn't begin to describe it.

When I graduated in 1994, I went to Japan for a little while and was playing around. I actually got a gig as an extra actor on Japanese TV. After 6 months of that I came back and started teaching at Shenandoah University in Virginia for 1 year. I liked the stability that the university setting offered so I ended up going to Kent State University for graduate degrees in ethnomusicology. My background is diverse but I think the most important aspect of my history is that I’ve always had a variety of opportunities that allowed me to practice my craft as a jazz drummer, orchestral percussionist, and improvising world percussionist and now scholar/teacher. Without the proper contexts to hone your skills in, it’s difficult to continue as a musician beyond school so I was always very lucky in that regard. The academic degrees and teaching are also important to me for the same reason; it’s a context that allows for continuous study and to develop my thinking, understanding, research, and writing skills.

SD: Tell us about your seeking out teachers like Glen Velez and others?

NSR: I studied with many people over the years. I tend to get intensely curious about something and get to where I think I can figure it out. For the drumset, I was with Joe Nevolo in New Jersey during high school and then being at Berklee and working with John Ramsey, Joe Hunt, Dave Weigert, Skip Haden, and Ed Uribe, and then with Keith Copland at Rutgers and privately with Peter Erskine satisfied my interests. I got a lot together studying with them. For classical percussion, it was being at William Paterson and working with Gary Van Dyke and Ray Des Roches and then William Moersch at Rutgers that gave me a good understanding of that world. But for world percussion, this wasn’t something in the 1980s that one could find out about in jazz and classical percussion departments easily. So through Richard Graham, he got me connected with Glen Velez and Naná Vasconcelos but also made sure I knew who other great players were such as Collin Walcott, Okay Temiz, Airto Moreira, and many others. Working with Robert Benford at Rutgers was another great source. He got me deep into congas, tabla, amadinda, and marimba improvisation. When I was in Ohio, I met Malcolm Dalglish and got to study hammer dulcimer from him and Shona mbira styles from Cosmas Magaya and Chaka Chawasarira. While at Kent State, I worked with George Crumb. He was really interested in my instruments and I remember at one point he excused himself from the composition faculty and came to hang at my aparment. We pulled out all my instruments and for 3 hours he kept drawing pictures of them and writing the names down. Then we went out for Thai food! That was an immeasurable experience. Really, if I think about it, these opportunities more fell into my lap than me seeking them out. If I hadn’t grown up close to New York City, I doubt I ever would have met Naná or Glen and if I hadn’t ended up in Ohio, I would have never met Malcolm or the Shona teachers. By going to graduate school in Ohio, I was able to get a grant to go to India to study Carnatic music so it’s really been very lucky for me being in the right places at the right times.

Other teachers that have had an important impact on me were not percussionists. It was the professors I took classes with and worked with during those years such as the jazz trumpet professor William Fielder, who taught me so much about jazz harmony and the piano, and the composers Noel Da Costa, Philip Corner, and Daniel Goode at Rutgers, Halim El-Dabh at Kent State as well as the scholars at Kent State such as Terry Miller, Robert West, and Bill Kenney that inspired me as well.

SD: You spent years researching various percussionists for your Master's thesis. Can you tell us about that and how it affected you as a musician?

NSR: At Kent State University in Ohio, again I was very lucky. I got into a program there where I was offered a job as a student teacher and school would be free for the master’s degree and Ph.D. My course of study was ethnomusicology, musicology, and culture studies/American history. I taught classes on world music so this required me to think beyond what percussionists are usually concerned with. I got really into doing research and understanding more about music and culture from a scholarly point of view. I was faced with having to come up with a project for the master’s degree so I developed an idea about improvising percussionists and how that particular style developed. This led me to intensely collecting a lot of recordings and videos of percussionists who played more creatively in improvising contexts. I spent about 5 years working on this where I collected every single recording with Glen Velez, Naná Vasconcelos, Airto Moreira, Okay Temiz, Trilok Gurtu, Collin Walcott, and many others. This was around the time that the Internet was happening in the mid-1990s, so I was able to meet a lot of people around the world and developed an extensive network of friends who would help me collect records, books, published interviews, and videos of these musicians. From this activity, I was able to collect live videos of each of these musicians from about a 20 year period each. In processing this information, I was able to see and learn how they did many of their techniques and gained an understanding of how they developed a style of playing from their beginnings until now. Eventually, I was able to conduct interviews with many of the subjects of my study and asked them all similar questions to do original research. Many of my interviews for that project were published in Modern Drummer and Percussive Notes. I interviewed Naná Vasconcelos, Glen Velez, Zakir Hussain, Okay Temiz, John Bergamo, Airto Moreira, Jamey Haddad, Steve Shehan, Trilok Gurtu, Robert Thomas, Jr., and Armen Halburian. I finished my master’s in 2002 (“The New Percussionist in Jazz: Organological and Technical Expansion”). It really impacted me as a performing musician because I understood how many of these musicians were doing what they did, and I absorbed some of their techniques into my own style. It really made me a much more flexible percussionist in terms having a wider range of skills. I occassionally do slide shows at university residencies on the history of the "New Percussionist."

SD: How did you get focused on frame drumming?

NSR: This was in high school around 1982. Friends of mine saw Pat Metheny and kept raving about the percussionist Naná Vasconcelos and the berimbau he played. That made me curious as to what it was since they kept talking about it so I began my studies with Richard Graham, and at my first lesson he showed me riqq, pandeiro, kalimba, and berimbau, and I was immediately hooked. We’d have lessons for 3 hours a time, and he was always showing me Arab, West African, Cuban, and Brazilian musics. Through him, I started playing tar, bendir, ghaval, kanjira, pandeiro, riqq, and lap style bodhran. He was a student of Glen Velez and told me about Glen. When I was at Berklee College of Music a few years later, there was a Remo Day of Percussion and Louis Bellson, Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, and Glen Velez were the artists. I remember running right past Louis Bellson who stuck his hand out thinking I was greeting him, and instead I was excited to meet Glen Velez! After Berklee, I went back to Richard Graham, and he suggested I take a master class with Glen Velez so I did and he just blew me away so I started a long and serious period of study with him. After that I hung out with Arnaldo Vacca when he was in the US on a few occassions between 1990-1998 and he helped me out on tamburello a lot, and eventually I ended up in southern India in 2005-2006 studying kanjira with Amrit Nataraj and B. Shreesundarkumar.

SD: Can you talk about how you mix finger techniques from India, the Middle East, and elsewhere?

NSR: This is something that I think is very common for percussionists in America to do; both native born and international artists that get involved in American jazz. I already began doing this when I initially started with world percussion because as a non-traditional player, I’m always playing the instruments in contexts that traditional players don’t get asked to play in very often. So when I play a berimbau in a jazz context, I have to tune it and play something that fits that context and capoeira rhythms aren’t always the best bet. The same is true for playing congas in modern dance classes—Latin rhythms do not work—so I’m forced to be creative to fit the context so that people will keep calling me back. The USA has always been a creative place at least musically speaking—with people coming from all over the world to our urban areas, the cities here act as zones of cultural interaction so ideas get exchanged pretty freely. People who have a deep tradition tend to hold on to it while those that do not often end up creating their own. I think that’s what started happening in the US in places like New York in the late-1960s-1970s as far as the work of percussionists such as Airto Moreira, Dom um Romão, Collin Walcott, John Bergamo, Naná Vasconcelos, Glen Velez, Zakir Hussain, and over in Europe with artists such as Trilok Gurtu and Okay Temiz to mention just a few. Of course, the Cuban conga players had already began a similar process of adapting technique and instrumentation to new contexts with Latin jazz in the 1940s so it’s more common than one may think. I saw this in many of my teachers and those that inspired me, and it seemed to be the way to play at the time I began developing—mixing instruments and techniques.

I remember clearly one day when it hit me—I thought Trilok Gurtu and Naná Vasconcelos were coming from these deep traditions and here I was trying to learn someone else’s music. I didn’t see much point to dedicating my life to mimicking music from another culture when the opportunities to play that music will more often than not go to players from that tradition. Let’s face it, the tabla players from India and the conga players from Cuba will always play Indian and Cuban music better than those of us who did not grow up with those traditions. So I thought maybe I should forget it and give this up. There was an Oregon CD playing, and I heard this amazing triangle roll and it was Collin Walcott and it suddenly hit me. Here was a guy who went through this and developed a uniquely American musical identity with the way he played tabla, congas, sitar, hammer dulcimer, sanza, and many other things. If he were my teacher in the room with me that day telling me what to do – I don’t think it would have hit me any different than how hearing his playing at that time did. So I realized it’s really about what YOU do with YOUR music that matters.

Another thing I tried to do early was adapt my technique in any way I could to make learning so many different things easier. I don’t know that this was successful but I went through a period where I used a similar grip for drumset and timpani, the same 4-mallet grip on all mallet instruments, and things like that. I think the most successful endeavor was spending a lot of time learning drumset, jazz, and classical percussion because that gave me a foundation in my own music that made it easier for me to learn other world percussion. Once I get past the basic techniques of various world percussion, I have all this vocabulary and foundation to work with. As I began to learn different drum techniques, I realized a conga slap works well on a tabla and vice versa, tabla fingerings can work on a conga if you know how to get the proper sounds on those instruments. If you need to play congas in a softer fashion then adapting the tabla stuff can work. Zakir Hussain does that all the time, and he knows how to do the proper strokes on congas. I’ve seen him use a conga slap on a tabla drum in old Shakti videos and it works quite well—particularly if you need to play tabla in a louder context. Of course, when you do this, you have to adapt the techniques to the instruments so principles of technique remain the same but you have to adapt the stroke often to the instrument. Traditional players don’t often seem to do this if they pick up a frame drum for the first time; they just play it like a tabla and don’t always get the best sound right away.

Another big issue for me was rhythmic ideas. Using Carnatic ideas about rhythm on congas or West African ideas about rhythm on frame drums, things like that work quite well. But I think without the proper context to use those ideas, you won’t develop them, and I’ve always been lucky in having creative contexts to develop the way I play.

SD: Why did you start the North American Frame Drum Association, Inc. (NAFDA), and tell us about the frame drum events you produce, and also how NAFDA has spread around the USA and Canada?

NSR: The idea of frame drum festivals was starting to happen in Europe in the early 2000s, and I could never go because they always happened around the time of final exams when I was teaching. So it was really out of frustration that I could never go to these and the idea of missing opportunities to meet players I was interested in. I started talking to some friends about the idea and trying to figure out how to put on a festival. In late 2007, I came up with the name and began the process of legally incorporating in the state of Maryland and then getting IRS recognized as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit volunteer corporation. It was pretty frustrating having to learn how to do all this practically on my own as far as the legal stuff was concerned but I pulled it off before the first festival in 2008 in New Jersey. There was a small crew of people that were working on the festivals in NJ each year, which were very successful but putting on large events like that was too draining. I realized it was much easier working on smaller events in various regions and with people local in those areas to help NAFDA grow so we started doing them in other areas. Within a year there were 6 festivals around the USA and Canada and NAFDA is in its fourth year now having produced 11 festivals so far. It’s a ton of work but the response from the community has been very positive. A lot of the younger players now have a place to play and get exposed and it evens out the playing field in terms of giving more people chances at these festivals than existed before so it’s been well worth the effort. Cooperman and Remo have been very strong supporters of NAFDA ( I think this model is very sustainable now given the huge economic changes that have occurred.

SD: You recently spent time in India studying the kanjira. Can you tell us about that trip and what you learned?

NSR: Once again, I was faced with a project for my Ph.D. in musicology-ethnomusicology. From having done the master’s project, I knew this would have to be something I was passionate about to see it through. I came up with this idea of trying to document the history of the kanjira, where it came from, how it developed, and what kinds of changes occurred in classical music in southern India that allowed for new instruments to be incorporated into Carnatic music. I realized that the incorporation of percussion instruments such as the kanjira and ghatam into Carnatic music was part of a larger process that included instruments such as the violin, alto saxophone, and mandolin. I received a grant soon after I started teaching at Towson University to work on this so I was off to India for 5 months in 2005-2006.

It was really a life changing experience to do ethnomusicological field work in a country such as India. I spent much of that time by myself dealing with both cultural frustrations and intense interest in being there. I studied with many people while there for tabla, morsing, ghatam, mridangam, kanjira, and solkattu. I was really feeling that the connectedness of these instruments wasn’t very clear to musicians outside of India so I felt this was necessary for my study. In terms of researching the history of the kanjira, it was very difficult because it’s not documented very well. I was lucky to have a sizeable grant so I travelled all over the north and south to museums, libraries and local areas to investigate this. I was doing herpetology to identify the species of lizard that the skin comes from, looking at what’s used for jingles, and shell construction, and historical issues such as how these things changed over the years. Some of the things I found out were surprising such as the shape of the shell. It wasn’t always curved. That’s a more recent phenomenon due to the influx of power tools and lathes. Kanjira’s were mainly made with hand tools prior to the 1980s and the shells were much thinner and less uniform from maker to maker from what I could see in museums and personal collections. The handmade instruments are much easier to play! The ones made since the 1980s are much more uniform and thicker in the shell and they feature that curved shape now.

I think musically, one of the most important things for me personally was learning the theories of how to calculate and construct korvais and other types of Carnatic rhythmic phrasing. This wasn’t something that was easily explained to me by any one person. I had to go to many teachers and ask the same questions over and over to try to get to the bottom of this. Of course, in India you’re not supposed to go to more than one teacher so it was difficult going to meet with 30 plus musicians—many of whom expect you to come back each day for lessons!

In terms of my project, I found enough to reconstruct a history of how this instrument developed and spread. The evidence I have found supports my ideas but because of the lack of proper documentation, I don’t know that the kanjira will ever have as solid a history as something like a piano.

A particular life changing event by going to India was meeting a beautiful and talented singer there who eventually became my wife—K.S. Resmi! I guess you could say I got more than I came for!


“N. Scott Robinson: Percussionist with a Worldview—Part 2”

By Scott Davidson for World Percussion & Rhythm 12, no. 1 (Spring 2011), 14-15.

SD: How did you get involved in playing for Native American flutist Mark Holland?

NSR: We met at the very first International Native American Flute Association (INAFA) Conference about 12 years ago. This was another one of those lucky things that fell in my lap while I was in Ohio of all places. One of the ethnomusicology students there was involved in Native American flute and put on this conference and all of the best players from around the USA came to Kent, Ohio. On the last night they wanted to do a jam session and asked if a percussionist was available so I got the call to play with people like R. Carlos Nakai, Mark Holland, Peter Phippen, and Gary Stroutsos—all of whom I’ve had opportunities to play with since. Mark and I particularly fit very well together. Our first show as a duo in 1999 was entirely improvised, recorded, and released as a CD. We realized we could follow each other well and playing with him required a lot of variety on my part. It’s another one of those contexts in which I have to play frame drums of all sorts, mbira dza vadzimu, berimbau, sanza, cajon, udu, tabla, and all kinds of things so it’s very good for my particular range of skills.

SD: Tell us about your new CD Wind & Fire with Mark Holland.

NSR: The CD Wind & Fire by Mark Holland and myself came out in April 2009. So far we’ve toured to 15 states and have sold nearly 900 copies all on our own. The Public Radio International FM station Echoes by John Diliberto played it regularly for about 5 months and listeners voted the CD #10 for Best CDs of 2009 and #164 for Best 200 CDs on Echoes Programming in Last 20 Years. One of the pieces I composed for that CD, "Meeting," won an Indian Summer Music Award (Native Spirit category). The CD is a little different from the typical Native American flute CDs out there. Ours has a ton of variety. Mark Holland plays many types of Native American flutes both single and dual chambered as well as an Anasazi flute, and he plays Indian bansuri, Chinese dizi, and Andean quena. I play about 30 instruments including didjeridu, donso ngoni (harp from Mali), tabla, bodhran (lap style), ghaval, riqq, kanjira, berimbau (3), mbira dza vadzimu, sanza, udu, and do some vocal tracks as well. Most of the recording was done in a long weekend and many of the tracks are first takes. I found out that the more tired you get, you seem to make economical choices in the studio in terms of chance-taking and improvisation. We were really surprised how much music we got recorded in so little time. There are a few solo pieces that each of us did with overdubbing ourselves so that took more time but within 2 months we had a new CD and hit the road.

SD: What solo recordings have you produced, and what musical projects are you currently involved in?

NSR: I have 2 of my own recordings out—World View (1994) and Things That Happen Fast (2001)—these are mainly my own compositions and feature me on a variety of instruments. There are also 2 CDs with Mark Holland as a duo and one with his quartet Autumn’s Child. Currently, I work with Mark Holland in our duo Wind & Fire, and we will be doing our second CD in spring 2012. I also work with the Jeff Ball Band, and we have 2 CDs out recently. There’s a wonderful CD that came out in April 2010 by the classical guitarist Aris Quiroga called Esperanto on which I play an assortment of world percussion on all classical guitar compositions—that was an amazing project. Malcolm Dalglish continues to write a huge amount of interesting choral music with folk and world influences that involve me in concerts and recordings in many parts of the USA. I just worked with the composer Michael Colgrass on a huge piece of his for flute and 4 percussionists at Towson University. One of the percussionists, Patrick Roulet, asked me to play some of the music of Michael Colgrass for his CD project due out soon. There’s a rock CD out by a Vietnamese-American artist named Carol Bui that I play a lot of riqq on. That was a challenge to come up with something that supported that music but it definitely worked. This summer, I’ll be working on tracks for jazz guitarist Larry Barbee’s new CD. Since last year I’ve been working on a triple CD project with an amazing guitarist and writer from New Jersey, Dennis Haklar. The project involves Larry Coryell and Jon Anderson to some degree and the music is an eclectic mix of progressive rock, world-jazz, and ambient music. The way people record these days almost requires you to be an engineer yourself. I’ve had to put a digital recording studio in my house to keep up with demands for tracks on projects from people who live too far to travel for.

SD: You have composed many pieces for frame drums and percussion. Can you discuss a few of them?

NSR: To date I’ve composed 13 pieces that are published in score form. Around 2000, I started doing solo concerts as I felt that was a huge challenge for someone just playing world percussion instruments. I saw Glen Velez and Naná Vasconcelos do it, and I had live tapes of Collin Walcott doing them so I knew it was possible. As I did more and more solo concerts, I found that little ideas I used for improvisation became larger frameworks and were more or less set into a structure. After I released my 2nd CD, Things That Happen Fast, I thought that some of the solo pieces I was doing for frame drums would be good etudes for percussionists to learn technical aspects of the modern way we play frame drums in the USA. I painstakingly notated every bit of 5 pieces I did on that CD and a publisher took them right away. The response was huge. I was selling at least 1 score a week for at least 5-6 years all over the world. For this kind of music, I was really surprised. Soon after that I began to get commissions from percussion faculty at various universities for ensemble pieces. So far there have been 6 commissions completed.

My favorite one is “Bear Talk”—a duet for Brazilian pandeiro that has interlocking rhythms in 5 & 9 beats. This piece uses older techniques for lifting and turning the pandeiro that are different from the current funky style of playing where the drum is constantly in motion. Another favorite is “Trio for Ogun”—this is for 3 congas and 3 conch shells. The drums interlock and the shell parts make an interlocking countermelody. Winthrop University Percussion Ensemble performed this piece at PASIC a few years ago, and they did it flawlessly. I have 2 pieces for solkattu and frame drum ensemble—“Interior Design” and “Carnatic Variations.”

SD: You have an amazing website, with a lot of information about frame drums. What is the URL and tell me more about your site?

NSR: The website is It was another one of those things that seemed like something a musician needed. Like a business card, a CD, and then a website so I was lucky to meet an energetic designer, Chris Sampson, who was starting off in 1999. He gave me an incredible deal and took a lot of ideas I had and built it. I think what was smart was learning how to update and add to it myself right off the bat. I thought no one in the world really knows about me so if I put up a lot of useful information about instruments for which there was little or nothing online at that time—various frame drums, berimbau, mbira—it would be useful to people. That’s how it started. Then I put interviews up and information about all kinds of instruments with sound samples. It was pretty early on when the Internet was just happening so it was another good thing at the right time. The response has been tremendous. When I travel to different pats of the world I meet a lot of people who say they use the site regularly, and I never get over the shock of realizing how much of a resource my website turned out to be. Recently, I’ve added a new section called SHOP in which I have high quality instruments from different parts of the world available for order. Great makers such as Cooperman frame drums in Vermont, Peterman stomp boxes in Australia, an electric berimbau maker in Brazil, ceramic percussion from Descarga Percussion in Greece, kalimbas from Anklang Percussion in Germany, the Black Swan drum from Swan Percussion in Texas, and custom made tuned udus from Buffalo Moon Flutes in Texas—these companies send me stock to sell for them on my site so it’s been a good way to get people to know about these smaller companies that make really great stuff.

SD: Tell us about how your involvement with the Percussive Arts Society has helped you with networking and meeting musicians from around the world.

NSR: I’ve been going to PASIC on and off since 1990 and been reading the journal since the mid-1980s. When I first went it was a huge opportunity to meet percussionists from all over—in that first one I went to in 1990 that’s where I met Arnaldo Vacca, Jamey Haddad, John Bergamo, and you! Back then people hung more and the artists consciously sought moments to play together. Now it’s a different scene with the drum circles being the main purpose to get together so many of the artists don’t come for that. I haven’t seen a world percussion jam session in almost 10 years at a PASIC. But at the same time, PASIC has been an important annual trip to Mecca for me in terms of meeting percussion companies and university percussion faculty. Almost every year I go, I get offered an endorsement or residency, and it’s really the website that’s helping promote that and attract these opportunities.

Networking with musicians is happening more on the festival scene for me now. It’s difficult to get involved with that with any regularity if you’re not really high profile but I do them now and again. It was amazing to go to South Korea and meet an Irish musician who ended up dropping my name for a festival in Ireland. That’s really been an important development for me. I’ve been over to South Korea 5 times, Italy, Greece, Germany (each twice), Canada, Japan 3 times, Australia, and in those trips I meet people who become important for helping to create other opportunities for international performance. When I was invited to Greece for a frame drum festival, one of the students was a pandereta player from Spain, Jonás Gimeno. I learned how to play pandereta [tambourine from Spain] from him. I ended up inviting him to a NAFDA festival a year later, and we met up in Germany in August 2009 and 2o11 for Tamburi Mundi festivals.

I have all these friends now in different parts of the world that I see only once in a while and always for a musical context. It feels like having brothers you really respect that inspire you. People like David Kuckhermann, Andrea Piccioni, Bruno Spagna, Shekufeh Pariab, Jonás Gimeno, Murat Coskun, Amrit Nataraj, B. Shreesundarkumar, Yshai Afterman, Aleix Tobias, Roberto Chiga, and others really inspire me when we get together. I think the younger players are an example of the newer culture of mutual support that the Internet has created in the last 12 years or so. They’re really a lot less competitive and much more into supporting one another than many of the older generation of players out there. I’m sort of in the middle—a little older but not too old that I didn’t notice this and become inspired by it. On many occassions, I have found a lot of them to be much more refined performers so it's both humbling and inspiring. It’s like finding your place and what you’re supposed to do in the world and that non-competitive, largely egoless culture of the younger music makers has really resonated with me.

For more about N. Scott Robinson and his music, please visit,, and



Interview 2 - "Interview with N. Scott Robinson: Master Hand Percussionist."

By Mark Holdaway for Kalimba Magic News 2, no. 2 (1 March 2007).

KM: This month's interview is with N. Scott Robinson, a master of hand percussion. Scott, you've got a great kalimba/mbira website!

NSR: Thanks so much! I'm working on getting some more tunings up there. Joel Laviolette is going to help me with a few of the missing tunings from Zimbabwean instruments. He's traveled all over Mozambique and Zimbabwe and plays many types of traditional mbira. His website has recordings of types such as chi-sanza, munyonga, mbira dza VaNdau, and others.

KM: Scott, you play a lot of different percussion instruments at a very high levelbut instead of starting in on the kalimba, I'd like to ask you about the tambourine. One might recall images of the singer absent-mindedly hitting the tambourine against their hip. But you treat the tambourine as a serious instrument.

NSR: In my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted to study music seriously. My main instrument was drumset so I began investigating as many styles of music as I could that drumset was used in—society, rock, funk, jazz, Latin, etc. I felt that I didn't have a chance of being accepted in a college music program unless I played every style of percussion so I began investigating percussion in classical music with timpani and xylophone studies, studied piano to get music theory together, and I pursued ethnic percussion as part of this process.

Richard Graham lived in a neighborhood near me on the New Jersey shore and was recommended, so I went to him and told him I wanted to learn everything I could. It must have sounded crazy at the time as I really had no idea of what I was really trying to accomplish but he introduced me to a whole other world of percussion. Richard Graham was a professional who had studied or played with all of the greats from Airto Moreira, Naná Vasconcelos, Collin Walcott, Badal Roy, to Glen Velez, Dom um Romão, Guilherme Franco, Armen Halburian, Babetunde Olatunji, as well as many of the great Latin percussionists. He was a guy who knew a lot and shared everything with me. At our first lesson (I was about 17); he showed me the kalimba, berimbau, riq, and pandeiro. I was just knocked out by these instruments, their sounds, techniques, and musical possibilities.

I studied with Richard for about a year and he did everything for me. Besides showing me music, he took me to record stores, places to get instruments in New York (there weren’t any companies making much besides Latin stuff in those days), to libraries and showed me what books to read. From him, I got the basics on many kinds of percussion styles and an approach to being creative.

I ended up at Berklee College of Music for a while where I was surprised no one played the instruments I knew about. At that time (1983-1984), there were few teachers that knew about some of the more exotic frame drums like the riq. I saw Glen Velez in Boston, and he just lit a fire of interest in me like few have done before. After Berklee, I went to William Paterson College in NJ in 1985 where I studied classical percussion and played briefly with the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble. I ran into the same thing there. The only time I saw anyone with a kalimba was a piano player who had to play one in a George Crumb piece. When I returned to NJ, Richard Graham suggested I go study with Glen Velez so I did and he was very much like Richard to me. He was a real guide in my musical development in a way that impacted other parts of my life.

I think my attraction to playing tambourines intensified around this time. I can remember clearly listening to an Oregon piece with Collin Walcott and just crying because it sounded so beautiful. I realized I would never be able to play something that was considered beautiful on a drumset. But the ethnic percussion was a path for me to reach that goal of playing something that reflected beauty, was more personal, and was at a higher level of musicianship than I was capable of on a drumset.

For me, the tambourines and frame drums offer such a rich assortment of timbres on a small, soft instrument on which I use my fingers as opposed to a large assortment of loud instruments struck with sticks. It fit my quiet personality more so than the drumset did so those kinds of instruments became my focus. The other thing that was going on was my mixing rhythmic and technical ideas on all of these instruments and drumset and jazz were big components in what I was developing on tambourines and the other ethnic percussion.

KM: Scott, you are into the frame drum and the kalimba—have you seen the Sansula? It is a kalimba permanently mounted on a frame drum.

NSR: Yes, I have seen this combo. It works quite well. I started using a large frame drum as a resonator for my kalimba back in 1988 when I was playing for modern dance classes at Rutgers University. If you tune the drum to go with your kalimba tuning, it responds a bit better. The drum increases the resonance and volume quite a bit.

KM: So, your personal musical path seems to deal with beauty and subtlety. That leads us to the kalimba.

NSR: My first kalimba was a Kenyan tourist model that was tuned to a pentatonic scale. My instruction on it was how to play in a creative personal way—not how to play any traditional music from Africa. Plus I had a role model at the time for doing that type of approach. I was listening to Collin Walcott’s recordings with Codona and Oregon where he played a sanza tuned pentatonically [this tuning is at the end of the interview]. His instrument was actually a kondi from Sierra Leon. I soon became frustrated with the simple instrument I had and was trying to emulate what I was hearing on those recordings. I got a Hugh Tracey alto kalimba and took half the keys off and retuned it and put on some buzzers. It wasn’t any closer to what I heard on those recordings but it was a world of difference in terms of sound quality, pitch, and what I could do with the instrument. That was my main kalimba for many years and it still is for improvising. I experimented with different tunings but the one I use most is a minor pentatonic tuning. The other thing that happened to me was once I set out on this path of developing a personal and creative approach to using these instruments, I had always found myself in musical contexts where this approach was desired. I played a lot of jazz over the years and jazz musicians were always open and flexible musically to new ideas. There were several musicians that I would pull the kalimba out for and we would improvise special musical moments together. The other context was working with modern dance for about 11 years at Rutgers University in New Jersey. This required me to improvise in very unusual tempi and rhythmic structures, and the kalimba worked very well for that.

KM: I have started taking half the tines off of the Hugh Tracey treble kalimba, leaving 9—I call this the Treblito. But you take half the tines off of the alto, leaving 8. How did you tune your alto with 8 tines?

NSR: Richard Graham showed my how take the 15 notes alto kalimba and take 7 notes off and retune it to a pentatonic minor scale. Then we put buzzers on the back ends of the lamellae. It was really an attempt to copy what Collin Walcott was doing with the sanza. I used to keep it in Ab but found I could sing better by lowering it to G. All of my instruments are set up to be played starting with the left hand in the center and alternating L, R, L, R, etc. to go up the scale. So the tuning I use on it is G, Bb, C, D, F natural, G, Bb, C. I sometimes change one note in the scale to have a different mode.

KM: All of my kalimbas are set up to be played starting with the right hand in the center. I'm right handed. Are you left handed?

NSR: Yes! But I do play most things right handed. For me, setting up the kalimba this way makes it more like a piano with my accompaniment patterns on the left side (like the bass of the piano) and the melody or improve stuff on the right side.

KM: It seems you have a fundamentally rhythmic way of playing kalimba. How do you also approach the melodic and harmonic aspects of the kalimba as an instrument?

NSR: While I was a student in jazz and classical music programs at Rutgers University in 1989-1994, I realized that what I was doing on the kalimba was mainly rhythmic and modal. I was always careful about tuning each lamella precisely and knowing what pitch I was playing, what mode I was in, and if I was in tune with the other musicians. Often, when I heard other percussionists play kalimbas, they would approach it like it were a marimba in terms of playing it melodically in a one note at a time linear fashion. This never really appealed to me because these types of instruments usually have a limited range of notes and are physically arranged in a way that makes it easy to have multiple things going on simultaneously on each side of the instrument. I find it a little awkward to play it purely as a melodic instrument. When I listened to Collin Walcott, I realized that he was also playing in multiple rhythmic style where his right fingers would play a groove on the right side of the instrument and his left fingers would play interlocking patterns on the left side in between what was happening on the right side of the instrument. The resultant parts give the ear the impression that a melody is being played but it is arrived at by playing rhythms. So that is how I deal with melodies on my pentatonic instruments, including my Hugh Tracey. I play it polyrhythmically and modally and the interlocking parts of my hands result in melodic material because the lamellae are tuned to pitches.

As I became more curious about others types of lamellophones and their tunings, I tried to find recordings of as many traditional African types as I could from Tanzania, Sierra Leon, Mozambique, Cameroon, and Zimbabwe. I have always felt that what many of the traditional sub-Saharan African players are doing is similar in that they play their instruments in a rhythmic fashion as accompaniment to a vocal melody. Some of the traditional musics I was checking out had harmonic patterns, so in Shona karimba and mbira dza vadzimu music I was hearing this but found that the overall approach seemed to be about interlocking the hands.

I have become more attracted in recent years to working creatively with some of the traditional instruments in Zimbabwe of the Shona and Kore Kore peoples such as the mbira dza vadzimu, karimba, and matepe respectively. These instruments have an increased range of sometimes as much as 3 octaves and are tuned in ways that are not pentatonic. I had also been improvising on the piano for modern dance classes and had some training in jazz harmony and composition so I understood chord structures and melodic relationships to them. It wasn’t until I started going through B. Michael Williams’ book on mbira dza vadzimu that I realized the heptatonic-tuned instruments are really like a piano in terms of having one hand play a repetitive pattern in the bass register and the other play something melodic on the other side in a higher register. What the Shona players do is more complicated than that, but after learning a few karimba and mbira dza vadzimu songs, I started working with those instruments as if they were a piano and developed a way to improvise on them and wrote a few pieces. Again, I had a context in which to use this kind of playing and was using these instruments and style with Native American flute players R. Carlos Nakai, Mark Holland, Gary Stroutsos, Jeff Ball, and Peter Phippen. I got a few solid body, fully electric, stereo mbira dza vadzimu from Dan Pauli who often puts extra lamellae on so one thing I want to do is work more with original songs while playing these. My latest obsession though is working with an electric ilimba that David Bellinger made for me that has a 4 octave range and a lot of sympathetic lamellae.

When I work with composer and hammer dulcimer player Malcolm Dalglish, it’s a different story. He writes music for choirs with hammer dulcimer and ethnic percussion accompaniment and his instrument and the voices often occupy the higher timbral end of the music spectrum. I find myself often trying to be a bass player in the context of his music by using tuned frame drums, udus, and sanzas to play something in the bass range. He really likes some of my sanzas and asks me to play them often in his pieces but he has a lot of traditional counterpoint going on so there are a lot of chord changes. This makes me have to tune my pentatonic instruments in unusual ways so I have all the pitches and have to play in a way that is unnatural for me to accommodate all the chord changes. The end result is that it sounds great, but I have to really concentrate like an orchestral percussionist in terms of being prepared and executing the parts. It sometimes requires me to start a phrase with my left hand and then suddenly start a new one with the right hand or do odd doublings in some places to execute the part.

So despite my developing a personal approach to playing these kinds of instruments for improvising, I have always had to be flexible musically to adapt to other creative musical contexts that required non-traditional uses of various kalimba, sanza, and mbira.

There are 17 instruments in the above pic:

Left from back forward: mbira dza vadzimu (Dongonda tuning) in deze, trio set of mbira dza vadzimu made by Newton Gwara, next to these are 3 more mbira dza vadzimu in different tunings (all from Zimbabwe).

Front center: stereo electric solid body bass mbira dza vadzimu by Dan Pauli.

Right: Hugh Tracey alto kalimba (custom tuning), David Bellinger electric kalimba in Kalimba Magic case.

Back Right: nyunga nyunga (on top of Kalimba Magic case, Zimbabwe).

Center (back): Cuban marimbula by Dan Yeager, David Bellinger electric ilimba (on top, Tanzania).

In front of marimbula from left to right: sanza, kondi by Rich Goodhart (Sierra Leone, on top, the Collin Walcott sanza), budongo from Uganda, matepe from Zimbabwe by Chaka Chawasarira.

N. Scott Robinson's Electric Array Mbira by Bill Wesley & Patrick Hadley

KM: Tell us a bit more about your Dave Bellinger ilimba?

NSR: David Bellinger makes fabulous instruments! My David Bellinger electric ilimba is just one of my prized possessions! It has a double keyboard layout side by side, which is common on instruments from Tanzania. I was drawn to Dr. Hukwe Ubi Zawose's music on ilimba and chirimba, but couldn't find much info on him and his instruments. When I spoke to David, he told me he met a researcher who knew Zawose and got his tuning just before he died so I asked David Bellinger to build me an electric version of Zawose's instrument, which has over 50 lamellae. I didn't think he'd be able to come close but he made me just about an exact copy of the Zawose ilimba with a pick up. Mine has 40 lamellae but you only play 20. You play on the outsides of each keyboard and the inner lamellae are all sympathetic so you don't play those. They respond by singing out when you play on the outside areas. The tuning is pentatonic but in traditional intervals to Tanzanian Wagogo music so the intonation does not match Western tuning. There is a chart on my website that shows the tuning. Still it has a 4 octave range which is much larger than I ever had on a pentatonic instrument. It has metal bridges and great brass buzzers and the box is huge. Acoustically, it is very loud and even and that tuning has such a magical sound. Plugged into an amp, it plays like no other instrument I have ever touched. I use a technique on this instrument that works quite well because of the large range. Instead of always alternating my hands (L, R, L, R, etc.), I play in unison but in opposite directions. That means my left hand goes up the keyboard while my right hand goes down and then I interject rapid passages by alternating my hands (L, R, L, R, etc.). Now when I listen to Zawose's recordings, I can find little pieces of what he does by having this instrument in my hands so I am slowly figuring out some of his music.

KM: So, you have an Array Mbira. I would think the Array Mbira is probably something like the Hammered Dulcimer, at least in the way I would play it—find patterns that corresponded to various kinds of chords or chord progressions, or riffs within some chord, learn how to transpose, etc. SO, it is the same sort of thing as a kalimba—something with its own internal logic that we can interact with to create beauty.

NSR: Yes. I just bought an array mbira. It's not really like a dulcimer as those are mostly diatonic but have a different layout than the left to right keyboard arrangement. The array is more like a lead steel pan with a circle of fifths chromatic arrangement but in a straight line like a keyboard and not haphazard like a steel pan.

I think you're right about the inherent beauty of kalimbas and finding ways to play them. I play most of my pentatonic ones in a rhythmic fashion as that's what I hear on a lot of traditional recordings - rhythm and melody. The ones tuned to more 6-7 pitch tunings have some harmonic patterns so I tend to play those that way. Personally, I find when there is a lot of harmony, it limits what you can do rhythmically or it gets in the way sometimes as you have to play only certain notes at certain times and only when the chords change. Music based on rhythm and melody (like African or Indian or Middle Eastern) for me is more free.

KM: Scott—I hear that primacy of the rhythm and melody in your recordings. But my personal music puts at least as much emphasis on the harmonic elements—you sort of define the matrix against the melody rhythmically, while I do it mainly harmonically. I understand it isn't traditional (Andrew Tracey reminds me that African music doesn't have chords).

NSR: I am interested in the Array Mbira because I want to be able to play chord changes and explore more of that kind of playing but don't want to be limited to a diatonic or pentatonic tuning. It's also the background of a person's musicianship. I started out as a drummer and learned piano later. I think guitar has a lot to offer in learning how to use chords with patterns and shapes. That's what is so great about kalimba—you hardly ever find someone else who does exactly what you do. Every person I meet that plays has a different approach to the same instrument. It's pretty cool!

KM: You play a lot of pentatonic kalimbaI am a diatonic guy myself, as I really do like the chords. Meanwhile, you are reaching for the full compliment of western notes on your Array Mbira. Do you ever feel limited on the pentatonic?

NSR: One of the things I don't like about pentatonic instruments that go beyond an octave and 1/2 is that all the left hand bass notes end up on the right side in the second octave. I have to greatly adjust my playing on kalimbas that go beyond an octave and 1/2 when playing in the more rhythmic style that I do.

KM: That's where I like them the best. For an even number of unique notes in the scale, you end up repeating the same patterns on the same sides if you go up or down an octave, for an odd number (5 for the pentatonic, 7 unique notes for the diatonic scale) the upper octave is the mirror image of the lower octave. This opens up a lot of possibilities. Scott, I'm impressed that you've studied with some great people. I myself have never studied kalimba with anyone, and I feel I'm a bit of an orphan. Do you feel your kalimba and mbira music is grounded in tradition?

NSR: My style of playing was pretty much self arrived at. My teachers helped me by explaining how the instrument works and by showing me a few pieces to play on the various instruments I studied. My interest was in developing how to improvise on them and beyond Richard Graham showing me a few things Collin Walcott did, I just developed it myself. I think we both went through a similar process. We both have a solid foundation in music (me in drumming and you in guitar) and draw on that foundation in applying what we know to the instrument. Because of our different backgrounds, we came up with different results in playing style. I think it is important to have some kind of foundation if you are creative. Some people have tried to learn my style but didn't have much of a developed background in music to draw on so it was difficult getting ideas across.

Thank you, Scott!

Here is part of Scott's resume. If you are looking for ideas of what music or what exotic kalimbas to buy, this is probably a good starting point.

Scott studied with:

Richard Graham - kalimba (in Collin Walcott style)
Nolan Warden - 15 lamellae Shona karimba
Cosmas Magaya - Shona mbira dza vadzimu
Chaka Chawasarira - Shona mbira dza vadzimu, 15 lamellae karimba, and Kore Kore matepe

Scott's influences:

Collin Walcott's sanza playing on recordings by Codona and Oregon
Dr. Hukewe Ubi Zawose's Tanzanian Wagogo ilimba and chirimba playing on his recordings
B. Michael Williams' book on playing mbira dza vadzimu
Paul Berliner's book on his experiences researching various mbira in Zimbabwe in the 1970s

Mbira and kalimbas Scott plays:

Hugh Tracey alto kalimba (custom tuning)
David Bellinger electric kalimba and electric ilimba
Bill Wesley & Patrick Hadley's array mbira (4 octave chromatic model)
Dan Yeager marimbula
Dan Pauli stereo solid body electric mbira dza vadzimu
Chaka Chawasarira matepe
Rich Goodhart sanza (copy of Collin Walcott's sanza, which is a kondi from Sierra Leon)
Ugandan budongo, Shona mbira dza vadzimu in various tunings by Shona makers Newton Gwara & Sam Bvure, and 15 lamellae nyunga nyunga (karimba) of the Zimbabwe College of Music.

Collin Walcott's Sansa Tuning

NSR: Collin Walcott's sanza playing with the group Codona is on the tune “Mumakata” on the CD Codona and also on “Hey Da Ba Doom” on Codona 3. With the group Oregon, he plays it on "Buzzbox" on the CD In Performance. It's in a pretty low E tuning (E, F# A, B, D, E, F#, A). There is a picture of his instrument on my website in the gallery marked sanza. The can with the strap is his axe.

KM: About Collin's tuning: If you start on D it is D E F# A B—the major pentatonic scale. BUT the tuning does not have a complete D to D major pentatonic, so that interpretation is de-emphasized. The relative minor is B, or B D E F# A B—but AGAIN the complete scale from B to B isn't there. How do YOU understand this tuning?

NSR: In terms of traditional African musics, they don't have this kind of theory that underlies their music making like we have in the West so you can't really look at such scales purely in Western terms. In figuring it out, Rich Goodhart helped me. He studied with Collin Walcott and built a copy of his sanza, which is really a kondi from Sierra Leone. The tuning is the same as is used on the Gambian donso ngoni 6-string harp that kora player Foday Musa Suso showed me. It's a pentatonic tuning centered on E but it is built of intervals we don't commonly use as a scale in the West. It's basically a major scale without the 3rd and the 6th scale degrees but with the 7th flatted.

KM: OK, I see this scale now: E-F#, then A-B, and D-E are each whole steps, but from the F# to the A is a step and a half, as is from B to D.

NSR: Yes, it is like the Indonesian idea of a pelog tuning in that it is a 5 note scale made up from non-equidistant intervals. The major pentatonic scale is more of a scale built from equidistant intervals.


Interview 1 - "N. Scott Robinson: Worldwide Perspective."

Interview by Iasen Kazandjiev for Ethno, Art, and World Music (1 November 2002), published in Bulgaria.

IK: How do you feel about yourself as a musician and composer who works in the world music field?

NSR: I don't take myself so seriously as to be called a "composer." I do create a lot of my own music but I construct pieces mainly as vehicles for improvisation and feel I am much better at collaborating than composing by myself. As a musician, I have been interested in so many different things and have learned a lot of different kinds of instruments. My interests are in creative music that features improvising on the variety of percussion instruments I play. There are very few styles of music where I could really use my skills but "world music" is particularly satisfying to me because of the variety of sound and musical choices available to the performer or composer. The term "world music" is often used by ethnomusicologists to refer to the world's traditional ethnic musics but in jazz, this term is sometimes used to describe a mixing of jazz with music and instruments from around the world. The jazz "world music" is how I use the term here.

IK: How would you describe your music style?

NSR: When I was younger I had a lot of experience doing different things such as orchestra, rock, jazz, Brazilian, Arabic, West African, Indian, modern dance, and other styles. Out of everything I had studied, I spent the most time studying jazz, classical percussion, and South Indian frame drumming. I have always felt that no matter how little I studied something, there was always something different about rhythm or hand technique that I absorbed. By the early 1990s, I started to realize that I had a very mixed way of putting ideas about rhythm and technique for hand drumming together. My music balances my various influences from jazz, classical, and world musics. I use a variety of instruments and usually change them from piece to piece to maximize the variety of sounds. Improvising is also an important aspect of my music. Like jazz, I like to have a structure to improvise on but I want to work with different rhythms, melodies, harmonies, and instruments than is typical in jazz. The social aspect of making music is very important to me. I usually have certain friends in mind when I construct a piece and have always felt that the better you get along with someone socially, then the chances of having a meaningful experience making music together will be increased.

IK: What are your plans for the future?

NSR: There are several different things pulling me in different directions. I have had interest from a German label called United One Records, and since 2003 they have released both of my CDs globally. First, my CD called World View and then later, my newest one called Things That Happen Fast. HoneyRock Publishing has just published the sheet music to six of my pieces from these CDs. I enjoy teaching a lot and am now teaching at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. I have been getting a lot of requests to take part in performances and CD projects in the USA, Korea, Japan, France, Bulgaria, Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia. I have been feeling for a long time now that Europe is a place I must go and spend some time. There seems to be much better interest and possibilities there for the kind of music I do than in the USA. One of the things I hope to start on soon is an instructional DVD about hand drumming and various tambourine styles. I have music composed and ready for my third CD, Hands All Over, which I will begin recording in the future. Composing is something I look forward to developing. I am working on some more pieces for frame drums and two commissions at the moment.

IK: What do you think about the fusion between music styles, especially world fusion?

NSR: I am really attracted to the fusion of ideas and instruments from different kinds of music and culture. I grew up at a time when this was quite common in the USA so the view that one has so much to choose from is the way I approach music. The problem is finding the proper context to continue this kind of music-making. The music business is really saturating people with the same kinds of music to the point that very meaningful kinds of music have been very under-exposed for a long time now. I think people will respond to something new when they find out that there is so much more to choose from than what you find in a store, magazine, TV, or on the radio.

IK: Would you like to collaborate with a Bulgarian music group?

NSR: Yes, definitely! I have met before the Bulgarian group Lot Lorien, and they are very good musicians. Their music was very difficult for me to learn! They really brought my attention to the rich possibilities in Bulgarian music, and I hope to meet up with them one day in the future. I'm told that the newest Lot Lorien CD features a piece that they composed and dedicated to me.

IK: What do you know about Bulgaria and Bulgarian traditional music?

NSR: Not a lot! I do know the music can be rhythmically complex and have seen some great tapan players before. I performed on darbuka once with the Solev Family, a traditional Bulgarian group. They were such great musicians, and it was thrilling to be playing with them and seeing an entire audience dance so energetically to a rhythm in 9 beats! Americans don't dance like that! When I was an undergraduate in music school, a friend played for me the music of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. That music captivated me immediately! I remember listening to it for days and carrying the LP into a music theory class at Rutgers University asking the professor to play it! For Bulgaria itself, I'm sorry to say I know little. Only that the country seems very rich culturally, brimming with beauty, and that it should be a very stimulating place to visit.

IK: Do you know Bulgarian world music bands or musicians?

NSR: Not really. I have only performed briefly with the Solev Family in Cleveland, Ohio in the USA and Lot Lorien in Seoul, South Korea. That's all I know of besides hearing the music of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. My favorite Bulgarian song is "Ei mori roujke."

IK: Ethno, Art, and World Music is the only world music publication of this type in Bulgaria. What would you wish to our readers?

NSR: First I would wish to say thank you so much! This is my very first interview ever in my life. If anyone is interested in finding out more about me or all kinds of world music instruments, they can go to my free website at where they will find a huge gallery of instruments with photos, sound, and text. There is also information about my CDs and performance schedule. I would also like to say that I wish the very best to the good people of Bulgaria, and that I hope to experience the alluring culture of Bulgaria myself some day soon!


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